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Practising orientation identification improves orientation coding in V1 neurons


The adult brain shows remarkable plasticity, as demonstrated by the improvement in fine sensorial discriminations after intensive practice. The behavioural aspects of such perceptual learning are well documented, especially in the visual system1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. Specificity for stimulus attributes clearly implicates an early cortical site, where receptive fields retain fine selectivity for these attributes; however, the neuronal correlates of a simple visual discrimination task remained unidentified. Here we report electrophysiological correlates in the primary visual cortex (V1) of monkeys for learning orientation identification. We link the behavioural improvement in this type of learning to an improved neuronal performance of trained compared to naive neurons. Improved long-term neuronal performance resulted from changes in the characteristics of orientation tuning of individual neurons. More particularly, the slope of the orientation tuning curve that was measured at the trained orientation increased only for the subgroup of trained neurons most likely to code the orientation identified by the monkey. No modifications of the tuning curve were observed for orientations for which the monkey had not been trained. Thus training induces a specific and efficient increase in neuronal sensitivity in V1.

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Figure 1: Behavioural performance and specificity for position and orientation.
Figure 2: Neuronal responses.
Figure 3: Neuronal responses.
Figure 4: Neuronal performance.


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We would like to thank K. Claeys, P. Janssen, Z. Li, H. Op de Beeck, H. Peuskens, S. Raiguel, N. Sachs and W. Vanduffel for critical discussions, and M. DePaep, P. Kayenbergh, G. Meulemans, G. Vanparrijs for technical assistance. A.S. is supported by a fellowship from FWO. This project was funded by grants from FWO (A.S.) GSKE (R.V.) NSF and NIH (N.Q.) and from DWTC (G.O.)

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Correspondence to Aniek Schoups.

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Schoups, A., Vogels, R., Qian, N. et al. Practising orientation identification improves orientation coding in V1 neurons. Nature 412, 549–553 (2001).

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